Are you wondering if your plant-based child is getting enough protein? Here is everything you need to know about vegan protein for kids.
Tell anyone you’re vegan and one of the first questions you hear is “where do you get your protein from?”
And there is no doubt about it, protein is important. Kids need enough to grow and develop properly. Protein supports brain development, a strong immune system, helps build hormones, and supports the organs, bones and blood.
The good news is plant-based kids generally meet or exceed protein recommendations.
Can Vegan Children Get Enough Protein?
Protein needs can be met entirely through plants. The consumption of animal products is unnecessary.
As long as your child is eating enough calories and a variety of foods throughout the day, there is very little chance of a protein deficiency.
Do I need to combine my child’s food to make “complete proteins?”
Do Vegan Kids Need More Protein?
Maybe a little.
Compounds in plant foods such as fiber may make it slightly harder for the body to digest protein.
Because of this, some experts believe protein needs for vegan and vegetarian children are approximately 15% higher than protein needs for omnivore kids.
Does this mean animal protein is better?
Fiber helps kids maintain a healthy weight, stay full between meals, reduce constipation, and feed their healthy gut bacteria. Plus, diet’s high in fiber lower the risk of cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease. Unfortunately, 95% of kids (and adults) don’t get enough.
In addition to fiber, plant protein is packaged with other important nutrients including antioxidants, phytochemicals, vitamins, minerals and heart healthy fat.
On the other hand, animal protein typically contains cholesterol, sodium and saturated fat, which may increase heart disease and overall mortality. It also doesn’t have any fiber and is very low in antioxidants.
How Much Protein Do Kids Need?
Here are the RDA’s (Recommended Dietary Allowance) for protein needs from the Institute of Medicine:
- 2 to 3 years: 13 grams
- 4 to 8 years: 19 grams
- 9 to 13 years: 34 grams
- Females 14 to 18 years: 46 grams
- Males 14 to 18 years: 52 grams
Protein Needs For Vegan Children:
Because some experts believe vegan and vegetarian children need about 15% more protein, I added an extra 15% to the RDAs. Here are those amounts:
- 2 to 3 years: 15 grams
- 4 to 8 years: 22 grams
- 9 to 13 years: 39 grams
- Females 14 to 18 years: 53 grams
- Males 14 to 18 years: 60 grams
What Does That Look Like in Food?
2 to 3 years = 15 grams (RDA + 15%)
4 to 8 years: 22 grams (RDA + 15%)
9 to 13 years: 39 grams (RDA + 15%)
14 to 18 years: males 60 grams & females 53 grams (RDA + 15%)
Is this all the food they need?
Kids need more calories and different types of food. The pictures are to show different ways a vegan child can meet their protein requirements.
Should I track my child’s grams of protein?
As long as your child is eating enough calories from a variety of food groups, they will get all the protein they need.
All plant food contains some protein. Beans, peas, lentils, soy products, nuts, seeds and whole grains are higher in protein while fruit is lower in protein.
Focus on giving your child a variety of nutrient-rich and varied options each day including fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, healthy fats, and foods with omega-3. Let them pick from the choices you serve.
And don’t worry if your child isn’t eating balanced meals all the time. Kids appetites, especially younger children, vary from meal to meal and day to day. This is normal. Overtime their nutrients will balance out. For more information on feeding your child, click here.
Is this the exact amount of protein they need?
The amount of protein your child needs will vary based on individual factors.
Protein needs are approximately 1/2 gram of protein per pound of body weight. To estimate how much your child needs, divide their weight in half. My 3-year-old weighs 30 pounds, so that would be 15 grams of protein a day. A 50 pound child would need 25 grams of a day. A 100 pound child 50 grams a day.
If you want to add an additional 15% because they are vegan or vegetarian, multiply the above number by 1.15. So my 30 pound daughter would need 17 grams of protein a day (15g x 1.15 = 17.25g). A 50 pound child would need 29 grams, and a 100 pound child needs about 58 grams.
Where do you get your protein from?
The next time someone asks you where you get your protein from, you can tell them over 95% of Americans eat more than the recommended amount of protein BUT less than 5% eat enough fiber! So the real question isn’t where do vegan’s get their protein from, but where does everyone else get their fiber from.
For more information on plant-based nutrition and feeding your child, subscribe to my newsletter and check out these articles:
- Vegan Iron For Kids: 5 Tips For Getting Enough
- Division of Responsibility: Feeding Your Child
- 50 Vegan Snacks For Kids: Healthy, Easy and Delicious
What are your thoughts on vegan protein for kids? Is this a nutrient you worry about? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you!